LCR Panning, top-down mixing

LCR Panning, top-down mixing


I’m curious just to hear peoples’ thoughts on two things in mixing that have become popular in recent years (maybe not so recent? I haven’t been doing this very long!):

Top-down mixing (starting with first moves on the master bus)

LCR panning (all tracks are panned only to one of three positions: L, C, R)

How do ya’ll approach a new mix?


I went through a phase of LCR panning, and to be honest I like it.

I’m not so dogmatic now, but I still am happy to pan major elements hard. It’s a good way to get out of a mindset of being afraid of pushing things out too far.

What it taught me, is that quite often if you can’t get something hard panned without feeling like it’s disconnected, or unbalanced, or leaves a big hole in the mix… the problem isn’t actually the panning, it’s something else.

Top down mixing - Usually after a fader balance, the first thing I do is stick a compressor on the master bus. Is that top down mixing? I don’t know. Usually after that I go and do stuff to the individual channels, and just check every now and then to make sure I’m not either pushing the master too hard or not actually touching the compressor.


I tend to use the L, C, R, A panning system. The A stands for anywhere.

I do intend to mix top down, sometimes. I wonder though if i would do that more if i first did all the editing, tuning, timing and getting the decent sound for each track first and then started the mixing.


I’ve never really tried LCR, mostly because I don’t especially like the idea of it. Restricting yourself to 3 panning positions certainly would make some decisions easier though I suppose… and I’m sure there’s plenty of kick-ass records that used LCR.

As for top-down, I do a sort of bastardized version of it… more of a middle-down in that I get the rhythm section roughly where I want it then add 2-bus processing and move on. Sounds weird, and frankly is kinda weird but that’s just what I do. To @redworks point though, my first steps in a mix is a prep stage, where I’ll do all the tuning/editing/timing/phase alignment etc… and get a rough level mix using pre-gain in Cubase or clip gain in PT, so I can start a mix with levels in a roughly good spot and faders at unity.


Thanks for your thoughts. I think I’m in a similar place. I’m not sure how I feel about LCR. I guess the idea is to widen the stereo spread. It is possible to get a pretty decent mix with LCR. I’m surprised actually. But it does seem unnecessarily restrictive. It does make sense to me that some of the rationale is that most people don’t listen from studio monitors, and aren’t noticing the stereo spread, or listening from speakers that are amenable to that: mixing from headphones and getting separation between instruments by placement in the full stereo field can cover up the separation that should come with proper EQ. It can mask an otherwise suboptimal mix. So, I’m not sure I’m sold on it. Still would love to hear more from others on this.

Thanks for this.

I typically do my gain-staging first, before else, and then I get a rough mix in mono, just to get a decent preliminary balance in the mix.

I’ve actually liked the top-down thing. It helps me to not overdo it with plugs and effects. I’m always surprised how decent of a mix I can get with just some EQ and compression on the mix bus, before even doing anything on the tracks. But, hey, what do I know? Just a young padawan in the world of mixing!



I start with the master bus FX bypassed until my foundation is built, then I engage them. But theres no correct/incorrect on this one.

By large yes (for me), but this is starting to change as I learn new stuff about imaging.

The first thing I do when I get a mix is get it organized. Next its building the drums and getting the vocals in place. I try to establish the kick/bass relationship as quickly as possible.


I read an article on LCR panning a while ago (sorry, I can’t remember where) but in the article it mentioned that the only “panning” options available on the old consoles was L/R or C. So it was all that was available. After that, I started adhering to @redworks method of LCRA. :slightly_smiling_face:

As for “top down”, after getting a static mix, I tend to focus on getting the rhythm section grooving, or whichever instruments are making the song move, then the vocal, or if it’s primarily a vocal-type song, I’ll spend the time on the vocal, then mix around that.

My focus lately has been to move elements forward and backward on the sound stage and automating.


Seem to remember reading that in the '60s at abbey road there WAS a pan pot, but you had to book it out and an engineer would deliver it to the studio to be used for the duration of the mix.


Is there a possibility you’re confusing this with 5-bus vs 6-bus LCR? I can’t think of an ‘old’ console that limited you to LRC on the actual channel strip.

These are 9J’s. One is Nashville, the other is in Charlotte. These are ‘older’ consoles that are known for having the LCR-only limitation. But it means something different here.

I wonder if what the article meant was that the busses are configured LRC but restricted to a 5.0 format. This would mean that you can pan freely around the busses, but you can’t expand beyond a 5-bus. So its not that the panner on the channel fader is incapable of doing a 75/25 or a 40/60 split. You certainly can. I wonder if what they were talking about is that your busses only have an LCR option.


Hmmm. That is absolutely quite possible. Especially since I still don’t understand what you mean by “5-bus vs 6-bus” LCR. :grin: (I almost didn’t write that post because I couldn’t come up with the article.)

This was my original thinking - as supporting evidence, if you listen to Led Zeppelin’s “What Is And Never Shall Be” (recorded in 1969), Jimmy’s guitar is LCR panned all over the place. I inferred that was their only option.

However, in rethinking that position, it doesn’t at all mean they didn’t have the option to pan in between LCR, only that they actually used LCR panning. It’s immaterial whether or not they had the ability to do different panning, because they simply didn’t.

Regarding @Cirrus remark, perhaps non-LCR panning was a special effect only the big boys got to use? Which, once again, shoots down my LZ theory… :thinking:


The 2 bus is your master output. It is the ‘bus’ that all of your channels in your DAW go to before they are delivered to the speakers. Thats your ‘main out’ or your ‘master fader’. When you apply compression to your master bus, that means you’re putting a compressor on your 2 bus. Same thing. Its called a 2 bus, because it has 2 channels. Left mono and right mono. A 6-bus is simply a 2 bus multiplied by 3. Don’t feel stupid for not understanding some of this, its a valid question and completely a terminology/semantic thing.

Logically, to feed more than two speakers (which is one stereo pair), you need more than 2 main output busses.

If your complete mix (as in your final master) requires 6 mono channels merged into a single 6-channel .wav file, then you need a 6 bus.

The SSL 9J was brought to market right before 6 bus mixes became an industry standard audio format. Thus the 9J is an ‘old’ console that only accommodated LRC bussing. But it still has fully functional channel strip panner.

Yup. You’re on to something there. You’re distinguishing between a specific panning technique vs a technological limitation of a mixer. Either could be the case :slight_smile:


So what is the “5-bus”? Outputs for 2 sets of stereo speakers and a sub-woofer?


The SSL 9J is configured:
Rear Left
Rear Right

Also, it didn’t give you object panning. It was designed to accommodate multi-channel home theater and movie theater applications. It also was a popular broadcast format before Dolby implemented a universal standard. So film and broadcast guys had to place stuff in the LCR busses and pretty much leave it there. Keep in mind that was also before we had Pro Tools.

Dolby standard 6 bus is:

Surround Left
Surround Right

The SSL 9J was a multi-million dollar investment for film audio companies that ended up being totally useless for cinematic mixing. These days studios use them for tracking. Michael Brauer developed the concept of Brauerizing mixes by utilizing the summing groups that fed the busses, but used them for grouping combinations of similar sources and processing the compression in a specific way. So basically, guys figured out ways to make use of the stellar electronics and immaculate sounding preamps, even though this console never truly fulfilled its purpose of being a ‘film console’.

SSL later developed its MADI based digital C-series (C-200, C-300) which fully implemented surround format. But it lacked the preamps and analogue ‘sound’ that the E, G, J, and K had.

Then came its flagship console the ‘Duality’, which is closest to the Avid System 5 that I have. Fully combines analog circuitry with a digital engine, and also with DAW control. These two ended up being SSL’s actual answer to the market demand for a high end film/broadcast console.


Nice pics. FYI, that’s pretty much what my home studio looks like too. :slight_smile:



If I told you how much it costs to build a place like that, believe me… you’d be glad your home studio does not look like those! lol.



I can only imagine!


I’ve always hated LCR mixing due to it bringing forth way too much separation into a mix. Good for headphones, terrible for speakers. Nothing worse to me than hearing toms and cymbals panned hard left/right. It just sounds disconnected to me and in my opinion, you ruin the listen because nothing is in between the lines.

Think about watching a concert. Toms don’t pan from the left all the way to the right. I just hate it and think it’s crazy to settle for 3 positions when you have 200. Think about it. How boring would pictures be if they only used 3 colors? Your pan positions are super important. Not only for your instrumentation, but your effects.

Too many hard pans with both instruments and effects can give you frequency masking. Though some would argue that point, if you mix two like instruments similarly and pit them in the same pan field, your chances for noticing frequency masking goes up drastically. Pan them differently, you just moved one out of the others way and they CAN coincide together.

That said, though this sounds like a bash on LCR, if it works.for you, that’s what matters most. However, I see it as being one dimensional where if you don’t use it, you’ll deliver not only tighter mixes from the lack to wide pans, you’ll have a cooler soundscape. Less separation equals a tighter, punchier mix everu time. Use hard pans for special effects. They will really jump out when you need them to.

Top down mixing? Color me ignorant, stupid or just plain out of the loop, but I’ve never heard of it. I will say this, those of you just dropping a compressor on the 2 bus are missing the point. Allow me to explain one of the most important reasons why we put comps on the master bus for those who may not know the reason behind it.

First off, a regular, digital compressor is not going to fully give you the same results. The reason? No tonal character. The whole idea of a 2 bus compressor is you put one on that literally colors the sound and then you mix into it. You don’t mix and then drop one on your master bus after. You CAN do it that way as there are no rules, but the technique is used to give a little analog warmth to a mix, or a little snap and pop depending on the compressor used. So the key is coloration as it forces you to mix differently.

Example: For those of you that use stock DAW plugs, chances are your fave comp doesn’t have tonal characteristics. Meaning, you notice increased/decreased highs and lows wjen using it. Most stock DAW plugs do not offer this feature. Mixing into this sort of comp will not give you the results the technique was created for. This is where a hardware comp can really make a difference.

But say we don’t have one. You need a tonal color comp like say an API 2500 or an Empirical Labs Fatso Jr etc. Those comps literally color the sound which makes you make decisions based on what you hear while mixing into the comp on your 2 bus. There are other tone type comps out there, but those are just two that I use that work incredibly well. And without them, I know I didn’t use them. So it’s not major. But it’s enough to know something was missing.

If the comp warms things up removing some highs, you’ll probably mix some of the highs back in. You probably won’t mix the highs it removed back in as they are usually 12k on up. So you’ll add a different sparkle…or maybe you won’t. That’s the thing…now you’re mixing into the comp and literally “gluing” the mix, which is where “2 bus glue” came from.

Now, you may use the comps to where they really sound dark which makes you add highs that create a poppy, punchy or punk mix. Or, you may select a comp setting that pushes more highs, therefore you use less highs, push things a little harder and you pick up some analog warmth and saturation tonality. This is where the Fatso comps shine for me.

As.for effects etc, if the mix can’t stand on its own with comp, eq or less, you’re headed in the wrong direction. Remember to treat all your effects as tracks. Eq, pan, compress if you need to, and always control how far the effects imagine goes out. Every stereo effect you use is equal to hard left/right. Add enough without eq, pan, and spacial adjustment and your effects could be as bad off as your instrument tracks.

So they all walk hand and hand. Gain staging is important here as the trim in your tracks not only effects track levels, it effects signals to effects. At the and of the day, whatever works is what someone should use. Break the rules and make others follow and benchmark you. However, there are a few rules and guidelines to it least keep in mind. :+1:



Nice, Danny.

I’m with you totally on LCR. I’ve done it a lot though, and like it, but it does seem unnecessarily restrictive. Your trichromatic metaphor says it all. There doesn’t appear to me to be a compelling reason to do that.

The top-down thing is touted by many. I know Graham over at Recording Revolution strongly rx’s it, as does Joe Gilder ( and others. I know for Graham that’s a new approach only a few years old.

I can say it’s impressive how decent a mix he can get after only working on the main bus. As he sees it, that’s the foundation, then he adjusts the tracks from there. Your explanation, though, makes more sense to me.


At the end of the day, the music we record and mix is different than what others do. You almost have to just create yourself while trying some of what others suggest. You’ll know when you find something that truly works and makes a difference for you for the better. We can read all the books and watch all the vids in the world and still struggle. The super pro guys are also working with super pro recorded instruments most times. It’s rare you hear them share a mix of utter garbage to where they teach you how to deal with it.

That’s one thing you’ll always have to decide…when to use a print and when to just recut the part(s). Unfortunately for this field, there will never be a one size fits all as I know you know. This is what I do lab work for. Each week, I spend a few hours just experimenting like a mad scientist. Sometimes it’s tips and tricks I read about, other times I’m just trying to come up with something different that works. Sometimes it works, other times it sucks, but it sure is fun! Lol! :slight_smile:



Totally agree. If a new law was passed that all mixes had to be LCR I’d pack the whole thing in. I don’t like LCR mixes, I can almost ‘see’ two blank vertical strips where there is no signal when I hear an LCR mix.

Yeah, not entirely sure what it’s all about myself either. I have one master bus chain that I put on every mix. I master on the fly, so I get all the processing on very early in the mix. I’m not too worried about my digital compressor having a lack of tonal character, I’m not using it for that - it’s just there for a bit of protection and a bit of glue.